A Canadian mother expressed her frustration in a now-viral TikTok video, after witnessing a mother struggling with her children during a flight while the father sat a few rows away. The incident has since sparked an online debate about equal parenting.
"I was seated next to a mom who had a baby on her lap and a toddler beside her. It was a lot," wrote Kristine Sostar McLellan, co-founder of One Tough Mother, in her video.
"I offered to switch seats with the dad, who was a few rows up, so he could be with his family. He says 'Great, thanks,' and sends over another small kid to sit with the mom. He enjoyed a kid-free flight," she added in on-screen text.
Many people in the comments reacted by saying they've witnessed similar incidents, with one adding as a flight attendant, he's seen many mothers looking after the kids "the whole flight while the father sits away or doesn't help. It's crazy."
Sostar McLellan pointed out in another video, domestic labour has been "unequally and unfairly" put on women in society, but it happens to men too in heterosexual relationships.
"I've seen dads in relationships being treated unfairly or carrying more of the load and it upsets me just as much," Sostar McLellan said. "Both parents should be all hands on deck, helping with domestic tasks, helping with child rearing... It's not right either way for it to be unequal," she said in the TikTok.
What is equal parenting?
Equal parenting is about sharing responsibility and decision-making between parents in a fair and balanced way, according to Nikki Martyn, the program head of early childhood studies at the University of Guelph-Humber.
"Parents, like people, have strengths and weaknesses and equal parenting doesn't mean it's all 50-50…where if a partner changes the diaper five times then the other should too," Martyn said.
"I think there's a fluidity that needs to happen for each family."
According to Family Lives, equal parenting, also known as 'shared parenting' or 'involved parenting' is about making children "feel that they have two properly involved parents."
Its aim is also to show "one parent is not able to dominate the lives of the children at the expense of the other, or to control the other parent via the children."
Equal parenting also means "the children are able to share the lives of both their parents 'in the round' — for example not spending all 'routine time' with one parent and only 'leisure time' with the other."
In order for that to happen though, Martyn explained parents need to develop trust and open communication.
How do I achieve equal parenting?
Both parents have to trust the other loves their child and wants the best for them, even though they may do things differently, Martyn claimed.
"In order for there to be trust though, there has to be open communication," she said. "Both parents have to be open and honest about… their fears or insecurities of not feeling like a good enough parent."
Maybe one parent doesn't feel like they how to nurture or how to actively play with their kids, but being honest about it can help both parents find what their strengths and weaknesses are.
"Both parents will know how to best support each other and to be able to achieve what they want, in terms of being able to provide the experience they want for their children," Martyn said.
There has to be open communication.Nikki Martyn
Martyn acknowledged some inner work should be done during this process, in terms of breaking down habits and patterns that both parents may have learned from their own childhood.
"In some cases, it's about making the other parent aware of what has to happen in the day to care for the child… maybe because they didn't see their own parents doing that."
She added when a child is born, the mother is more responsible because she's producing the milk and feeding the baby, bonding with it. That can sometimes be isolating for the father who may feel like he's being excluded from something special.
"Those conversations at that point are really important, 'how can I help? How can I be included?'" said Martyn.
"It can be a time where the parent says, 'oh, OK, I'm gonna go work and leave this to you.' But this is actually a really important time to create the expectations of, 'We're both going to do these things together.'"
Martyn encourages fathers, or any parent who's not biologically nursing, to take off their shirt and put their baby on their chest; that kind of touch is important for emotional connection. This way, both parents are choosing to be involved from the beginning.
How does equal parenting benefit children?
When mothers and fathers share in the responsibilities of parenting and domestic duties, Martyn said children will grow up understanding that healthy relationships must be full of trust and open communication.
"It's positive role modeling for children," said Martyn, adding "children need more than one role model."
She explained some parents are great at physical play, exploration and building forts, while others may be great at snuggling up and reading a story.
"Children need to have all different experiences and perspectives. But they need to also know it's safe and that there's trust and love, and that they're safe to have those relationships with multiple people,"the expert explained.
Children who have strong relationships with both of their parents often feel more secure and loved.Nikki Martyn
This also helps build social skills and teaches children to be more aware when it comes to gender equity.
"Knowing that… builds resilience and perspective taking, and it helps reduce stress for the child," Martyn said.
She hopes parents who are struggling with, or striving towards, equal parenting know they're creating an opportunity for the next generation to be different.
"A boy will learn that as a father, he can nurture and put children to sleep," Martyn said, "and the mother will recognize that she can actively play and do all the things that she want to do with her child… and she can share the responsibility, and can be at work, and not feel guilty."